What’s happening in Hong Kong could easily happen in Singapore if we become complacent, says Minister Chan Chun Sing

There will be “grave doubts” about Hong Kong’s future unless calm is restored and constructive actions are taken, said Minister for Trade and Industry Mr Chan Chun Sing on Monday (18 November).

Speaking to reporters, Mr Chan said that the ongoing protests in Hong Kong have reached a “breaking point”, adding that Singapore is watching the situation develop “with concerns”.

He said, “Unless calm is restored, dialogue commences and constructive actions taken, there will be grave doubts about Hong Kong’s future and the sustainability of its current governance model.”

The protests in Hong Kong, which kicked off in June as opposition to the proposed controversial Extradition Bill, has now evolved into a bigger movement calling for reforms and a loosening of China’s grip of the city’s freedoms.

The incident took a violent turn early on with protesters and police clashing on the streets with no one escaping the brutalities, including teenagers and members of the media.

Mr Chan said, “We watch with concern the deterioration of the situation in Hong Kong. This is especially so for those of us with relatives in Hong Kong,”

He noted that the continued success of Hong Kong as an economic and financial up is crucial to the region and the world, including Singapore. He expressed hope that the situation in the autonomous territory will “improve soon”.

Mr Chan then took the opportunity to highlight four lessons that Singapore can learn from these protests, cautioning that what happened there could “easily happen” here if the country becomes complacent.

First, Mr Chan said it is important to have a well-functioning political system that works closely with the public service in order to execute policies, anticipate challenges, resolve issues and improve lives.

“Regardless of political systems and party interests, the exercise of leadership must be to put people’s and country’s interests foremost,” said Mr Chan.

He also highlighted the importance of proper feedback channels that would facilitate responsible governance, saying “Only with a well-functioning political system, the right political culture and a well-oiled feedback-to-action mechanism can we make adjustments to policies as necessary, execute decisively and communicate effectively.”

Next, Mr Chan talked about long-term policy-making, noting that a government’s success cannot be measured merely in the short term. He said, “Our success must also be determined by our ability to enable the next generation to do even better than us.”

“Today, too many governments and societies are too focused on the immediate and domestic, without sufficient considerations for the future or external,” he added.

To illustrate his point, Mr Chan pointed out how access to affordable housing and essential services is key in maintaining a stable society.

“The transfer of land ownership and properties across generations cannot be at the expense of depriving future generations’ opportunities to be rewarded based on hard work and capabilities. It cannot be that those who are rich first will be rich forever without due effort.”

Land is a constant debate in a small island state like Singapore. Mr Chan talked about suggestions that have been brought up to include land sales proceeds in the Singapore Budget and allowing private developers land bank for longer periods to allow them time to complete projects.

However, he said, “Our rules put national developments, especially public housing, as a priority.”

“We are careful to not distort incentives for government to use land sales to maximise profits. Otherwise, it is the public that will ultimately pay. We are also careful to not let private developers’ interest override wider public interest.

“Revenue from long-term land sales goes into our reserves to benefit future generations. This is the discipline we adhere to.”

The third lesson Mr Chan highlighted relates to social cohesion and conflict resolution. Mr Chan explained that for a diverse society to maintain unity, all parties need to bear in mind the wider good of the country while still championing the respective wants of each subcommunity.

“To insist on maximal individual gains, at the expense of the common and collective good, cannot be the Singapore way,” he cautioned.

He also noted that dialogue and constructive actions are the way to go when resolving problems, not violence. The minister stressed that conflict resolution requires all those involved to be responsible and constructive, adding that Singaporeans are ultimately responsible for their own future.

“Regardless of what others say, we must bear the responsibilities and consequences of our own choices and actions. This is why we are against foreign interference in domestic politics,” he said.

Finally, Mr Chan talked about the challenges a small city-state faces in order to survive and thrive on their own. “Singapore will have to pick up the pieces ourselves should things go badly wrong,” he warned.

As such, Mr Chan pointed out that Singapore’s continued relevance to the word is not a sure thing. He said the country has to work hard to distinguish itself and keep up its exceptionality amid growing global uncertainties.

This, he added, includes increasing opportunities for local workers and enterprises and providing value to regional and global geo-strategic affairs with a principled perspective and clear-eyed analysis of the challenges.

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